Politicians, advertisers, talk radio hosts, social media engineers—you name it, they want your attention. Many want you to be angry and afraid. But as Christians, we’re called to faith and love—even when we’re scared, even with people who don’t like us.
We need to get back to the gospel so we can move forward—together.
That’s why we wrote the new book Gospelbound (Multnomah), to help Christians live with resolute hope in an anxious age. My co-author and guest on this episode is Sarah Zylstra, one of my dear friends and a longtime colleague first at Christianity Today and now with The Gospel Coalition, where she is our senior writer.
We need to get back to the gospel so we can move forward—together.
We wrote this book to boost your morale with stories of Christians around the world living for God and loving their neighbors. They’re caring for the weak, loving their enemies, and giving away their freedom for others. They’re gospel-bound Christians because they’re bound to the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ—they cannot be shaken by this turbulent world. And they’re bound for glory someday, which is how they can live with such hope in the here and now.
Not only will they boost your morale, but these gospel-bound Christians will also give you a model for how live in the chaos. So for more on these stories, I turned to Sarah in this episode of Gospelbound.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Ask people about the state of the world, and they’ll usually give you a negative response. Politics, no thanks. The economy, it could always be better. Wars, I mean somewhere someone is always killing and someone’s always dying. Ask people about their own lives though, and you’ll often get a different response. Your neighborhood, we like the people around us. Your church, it’s been a strange, year, but we’re trying our best. Your family, even amid staggering loss, we’ve enjoyed many unexpected blessings during the pandemic.
So, what accounts for this difference? Why do we tend to think so negatively about the world, and yet more positively about our own lives? I would argue it’s because someone, actually many people, want you to think negatively about the world. Politicians, advertisers, talk radio hosts, social media engineers, you name it, but they want your attention. They want you to be angry and afraid. But, as Christians, we’re called to faith and love, even when we’re scared, even with people who don’t like us.
And that’s why we wrote the new book, Gospelbound, to help Christians live with resolute hope in an anxious age. My co-author and guest today is Sarah Zylstra, one of my dear friends and a longtime colleague, first at Christianity Today magazine, and now at The Gospel Coalition where she is our senior writer. We wrote this book to boost your morale with stories of Christians around the world living for God and loving their neighbors. They’re caring for the weak, they’re loving their enemies, they’re giving away their freedom for others. They embrace the future, they live with honor. They’re the kind of people who set another seat around the table.
They are gospelbound Christians because they’re bound to the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ, they cannot be shaken by this turbulent world. And they’re bound for glory someday, which is how they can live with such hope in the here and now. Not only will these gospelbound Christians boost your morale, but they will also give you a model for how to live in the chaos. So, for more on these stories, let’s turn to Sarah. Sarah, thanks for joining me on Gospelbound.
Sarah Zylstra: Thanks for inviting me.
Collin Hansen: Sarah, journalists, as you and I know full well, tend to be a cynical even-jaded group. I remember when I was doing my internship in undergrad, hanging out with journalists, thinking, “These people are miserable. I don’t want to be anything like them.” It was a little disconcerting. I mean, to some extent, this is for good reason, since we do see so much of the ugliness in the world. So, why isn’t that you, Sarah?
Sarah Zylstra: I mean those are Pavlovian responses, so I think journalists, like you said, they’re reacting to what they’ve seen over and over again, which is the brokenness in human nature and people promising one thing and delivering another, or people trying to cheat the system. And I think that would be me too, I don’t know that I’m naturally a different way, but I have spent the last four years looking for places where God is at work in the world, hearing stories of people, and not just happy-clappy stories, but people who have gone through really difficult times.
We told the story of Seattle and what happened after Mars Hill collapsed. We, this summer, reported on Christians in Nigeria who are being killed by Muslims, but these Christians were being killed by other Christians. So, we tell some dark and hard stories, and yet when you talk to the people who are living those stories, like you referenced earlier, they’re relying on God. And, for us, it looks like, gosh, God has forsaken them, but if you talk to them, they’re saying, “God is the only reason I’m getting through this. I’ve never been closer to him, this is how we’re making it through.”
So, for me, to see that over and over and over and over again, has just strengthened my faith in that way, and also, if I see a story coming along, my first response anymore isn’t like, “What a disaster, everything is terrible,” but more like, “I wonder how God is working there.” I wonder, in five years, what story are we going to be able to tell of the things that God is doing right now? So, I think that helps.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, I love that. You planned this book with me before the pandemic. How did COVID-19 change your perspective on the book?
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think the things that we were writing just became all the more true. I think the anxiety levels that we were seeing rise before COVID, it wasn’t like it was new, we were already addressing that, just went through the roof with all the things that were happening. And I was talking with my husband this morning and he’s like, “I think what has happened is anxiety has almost tipped over into a virtue.” For a lot of people who aren’t Christians, or even some that are, if you’re not worried enough about what’s going on, it means that you don’t care; if you don’t feel scared enough, if you’re not losing sleep over the presidential election or whether that person at the grocery store wore a mask, then you don’t care, you’re not nice.
And so I think it’s all the more important to push back against that. For one reason, that’s a miserable way to live. But, also, it warps you and it really, for Christians, belies an underlying deep distrust that God is able to love you and care for you. It’s a reaction of people who are their own God or relying on really unstable circumstances for stability, and that’s not where we are at all. So, I just think we need this even more.
Collin Hansen: I remember a conversation with you, maybe years ago, Sarah, where we were talking about this book and thinking if you don’t believe there is a God, you don’t believe he’s good or you don’t believe he’s in control, then wouldn’t you feel pretty anxious about things? Wouldn’t you be fairly debilitated about all of these horrible things happening in this world that you can’t control? So, in some ways, we’re seeing the natural outworking of people who don’t believe in God or don’t think that he’s involved in these ways or that he’s there or that he cares. This is your first book, you’ve been an experienced writer, but it’s your first book. What did you learn about yourself in writing Gospelbound?
Sarah Zylstra: I learned I could write a book.
Collin Hansen: That’s a good place to start.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah, it was good. I don’t know how much I learned about myself, but I did learn about you.
Collin Hansen: Uh-oh.
Sarah Zylstra: It is amazing to me that you can take these … it almost feels like an artist who puts the colors on first and then comes in and fills in the outline and you’re like, “Oh, that was a tiger,” or whatever they’re trying to convey to you. And it feels like I was writing these stories, just scribbling colors here and there, like, “This is a pretty color over here, look over here,” and you were able to come and put the outline of all of that together and see the vision for this book, which is pretty amazing because it’s pretty messy, and I don’t have the skill to be able to look at all of that and synthesize it into something really beautiful, so I think that’s an amazing thing I learned about you.
Collin Hansen: Way to spin that one around. The original vision for this book came from some time that I set aside reading through the Book of Romans, and I love Romans 12 in particular, a lot of beautiful exhortations to how we should treat one another, to honor other people, and how we should love our enemies and things like that. But the whole Book of Romans is full of gospel-centered insights about what it means to be able to care for other people, inside and outside the church, how to respond to difficult circumstances, how to deal with sin inside our own lives, as well as in the world.
And I remember just jotting down these different perspectives that came from the Book of Romans, and I thought about how do I connect that then to what we’re seeing because it’s not like the Spirit isn’t working, he’s obviously at work, bringing this to reality. And so it just became a process then of what are these different principles from the Book of Romans that we can delineate, and then how can we pull together all of these dozens and dozens and dozens of stories that you and I have worked on together over the years to be able to illustrate that this isn’t just Bible talk, this is real life for people who believe that Jesus is risen from the dead and that he’s reigning now, and that makes all the difference in the world?
I mean I have a vision for how that comes together, and I have a vision for how to look at a story, but you have an exceptional vision to make people comfortable to talk about what God’s doing in their lives. And I don’t know how you do that, Sarah, because you and I were both trained in a lot of the same ways and in the same place, and not a lot of people get that behind-the-scenes look at journalism. But I’m wondering, I mean what we’re doing is so contrary, I think, in so many ways to what journalism is perceived as, how could you explain to listeners here why negative news gets so much attention? Were you trained to look for the bad?
How does it get to be this point? Because, like I said in the introduction here, I think one reason we do feel so anxious is because those people you talked about there, they just don’t care enough, they feel if you’re not anxious, then you must be doing something wrong. Yeah, because that is the message that’s being communicated by politicians and other people who want your money is you should care about this, and the way to care about this is by giving me money. So, take us behind the scenes with journalism, Sarah, to explain why does the bad get so much attention?
Sarah Zylstra: I know. And it’s easy to blame the news media, but we have to remember it’s a business and it actually comes back to the readers. Studies show it’s just the bad news that gets the clicks, and before that, it was the bad news that got you to tune in on TV or on the radio or to buy the newspaper. And that’s something I wonder about too, are we created with, is it inside us, a reason that we lean toward the bad news? Is that simply a result of the fall that we lean that way? I don’t know. But it’s even a physical reaction in people, like your heartbeat stays the same when you’re looking at good news as it does when you’re looking at literally a screen full of static or a gray piece of paper. But when you’re looking at bad news, your heart rate picks up and your breathing speeds up and you’re engaged in it, you’re worried about it is what you are.
And so the more anger and worry and emotion that the news can get out of you, the more money that they can get out of you, which is even more important these days because the news hasn’t made such a great transition to the internet age, so they need those dollars, which also is self-perpetuating because then you have a news media that doesn’t have enough money to do the on-the-street reporting, so there’s more and more high-level reporting because it’s very easy to dial into a press conference and then go get a couple reactions on Twitter. It would be a lot harder to go to the press conference and then find some actual people who aren’t on Twitter, that just costs too much money. So, here we are in a cycle.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, that’s a good question, Sarah, I don’t think you and I’ve talked about that before, just in terms of human nature, of what that might be. I wonder, is it our tendency to seek justification in comparison? Thank you, Lord, that I’m not like that person; I may know that I have problems, but at least I’m not as bad as that guy over there. I wonder if the default state of the human heart is what we’ve come to describe as what-about-ism. Sure, I’ve got problems, but what about you? Your problems are worse than my problems.
So, it could be in that loss of the vertical perspective in our accountability toward God that drives us toward humility. It could be that in the horizontal representation of comparing to each other, we think, “I just have to be better than the other side or have to be better than that other person,” and so news that facilitates my feeling better about myself by feeling bad about someone else or looking down on somebody else, that might be the human nature there.
I mean I remember, Sarah, we’re old enough to remember the beginning of reality TV. And I’m not talking about the Real World stuff, which we also remember, but I’m talking more of the Survivor stuff, and then into The Bachelor and everything. I remember asking someone, I don’t like reality TV, and I was asking somebody, “Why do you watch?” And she said, “Because these people’s misery makes me feel so much better about my own life.” I thought, “Okay.”
Sarah Zylstra: That’s true.
Collin Hansen: I don’t think that’s all reality TV because I think when I watch House Hunters, I feel worse about my life. So, I know I definitely wonder what I’m doing with my life to not be able to afford multimillion dollar homes for my dogs.
Sarah Zylstra: Right. That’s true. If I watch the news about the disasters in Texas, I’m also able to help. For a Christian watching the news, if I belong to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, I’m watching the news too and I’m clicking on those bad stories, but that’s so I can throw my chainsaw in my pickup and head over there. So, there’s that fight-or-flight quick response in us to, “Something terrible happened, can I step in and fix that?” It might be a very small sliver.
Collin Hansen: I think, Sarah, that’s very true of local news. If you find out that somebody is in trouble, somebody’s had something go wrong, somebody’s house burned down, that does allow me to jump into action. But, realistically, what can I do about our political crisis right now? I can’t actually do much about all of that, even with a relative amount of publishing cache. And so, I don’t know, maybe I think your perspective is a little overly generous there.
Sarah Zylstra: I lean that way.
Collin Hansen: I can see some of that news you can use, but most of the news that we consume, I don’t think we can use. And so I’m just not sure that it’s designed to be that way. But if that’s how people were consuming it, so they could pray, so they could donate money, so they could help, so that they could learn lessons from these places where things go wrong, that would be positive.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah. Or like when COVID first started and we were all glued to the news, that was, I guess, more news you could use, like you have to wear a mask now, now you have to stay in your house, now you have to get groceries at this certain time or whatever.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. There’s definitely purposes to it. But you’re right about the way we’re shifting away from local news toward national, even not international, it’s really just national news. And in that switch, we’re becoming more and more abstract, and I think it’s inclining more and more toward, I guess, symbolic culture war-type issues, and then political … It’s almost like politics is becoming pure entertainment, while sports becomes more political. It’s almost like there’s a convergence across sports trying to become more and more self-serious, and then politics trying to become more entertainment-oriented, and so now we just have this never-ending, no matter where you go, it’s always about culture and conflict and things like that. I have to think, Sarah, that that’s a response to the consumer dynamics. I mean people complain about negative political advertising all the time, and my response, I’m sure your response is the same way, is just they wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: So, that’s what gets to us. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t work. Now, I think somebody could accuse me and you of ignoring more the negative stories in the church because I know we know plenty of those negative stories, and some of our friends and colleagues have done a great job of reporting about those. But why don’t you write more of those stories?
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah. Well, maybe the first and most obvious is that a lot of people are covering those stories. That’s not an under-reported area by any stretch, so there’s lots of people who are already there. And we’re looking to tell stories that are fresh, our job isn’t really just to repeat what everybody else is saying. But also this, in those dark stories, it’s maybe not time for us to report yet.
We like to report where we can clearly see God is at work and has done something, and he 100% is at work and doing something in those stories, but when it’s super raw and fresh like that, it’s either hard for us to access those people or hard for those people to see what God is doing or to be able to articulate it. So, when I see that, it makes me think, as I said, if I could come back to this in a couple years and interview you about this time, about what God is doing right now, then that is where our niche has been, to tell how God is at work in those situations. And I don’t think we stay away entirely from those dark stories, but we have to be able to see where God is doing something, and then we can print it.
Collin Hansen: Are you able to apply that same standard to your own faith, your own personal life?
Sarah Zylstra: To be patient and come back to it, you mean?
Collin Hansen: Yeah, just a sense that we don’t know what’s happening in that moment. We know God is at work, but we don’t often know how or why. Are you able to use that knowledge to say, “I think at one point I’ll have some clarity about this? Maybe not every question answered, but I’ll have some clarity on this, I’ll be able to see,” which doesn’t necessarily make it good, but it helps at least to have a bit of a more faithful and trusting perspective. That doesn’t seem like a generalistic takeaway, that seems like a surviving-and-thriving-as-a-Christian takeaway.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah. I have historically been terrible at this. I am not a good griever, I’m not good at reaching out to God in hard times, much easier for me to do that when things are going well. I like to praise God. But I do think walking … And also, as of late, I haven’t had a ton to complain about, I’m not walking through a dark season right now, so maybe I haven’t yet been able to put this muscle into practice. But I also just think, gosh, a daily, even paying attention to my own life, I can see there’s even …
When I look at my life, 30,000 feet, like, “Oh my gosh, I’m so busy, how am I going to get all this done? This feels so overwhelming and I’m tired and I don’t know what’s going on,” but if I come down to the granular, “Okay, this afternoon, I have a pocket of time to write” or “I’m going to be able to read a book with my son,” when you come down into those every-square-inch moments of life and see God there, and that reinforces over and over and over again.
So, I definitely think that has changed in how I’ve seen, I’ve been able to apply that principle just to my own life, and then that is Pavlovian of reinforcing, like, “God showed up again today and God showed up again today, maybe he’ll show up again tomorrow. God showed up again and again and again. I think God’s going to keep showing up,” and that builds trust, which builds joy.
Collin Hansen: I think to connect that also back to the bigger journalism question, Sarah, I think that’s the response that I would encourage people to take to the news is not to read this stuff and then jump and then run to social media, but to say, “Where can I invest in building a better world, loving my neighbors and loving God, where I am?” So, the same shrink-your-focus and say, “I can’t solve racism in America, but I can love people who are different from me in my life. I can look to do that, I can take a step of faith and I can go out of my way to do that. I can’t change politics, the Republican or Democratic Party, but I can get involved with my city or with my county, I can make that a better place through direct involvement or through some other support through that.”
And so I guess that’s one of my hopes for the book is that they have that personal response that you’re talking about there, that faith response, but then they’re also able to put this into practice in a doable way. And I think that does help, Sarah, to kill some of the anxiety because then, like you said, you train yourself to see God working right there every step of the way, instead of being constantly exasperated by stuff that you know you can’t control there. This is kind of a weird question, and I don’t really have a good segue to be able to do it, but what actually does worry you? What is the kind of thing you actually do have to take to God and say, “God, I don’t know what’s going to happen with this?” What actually does worry you?
Sarah Zylstra: That’s a good question.
Collin Hansen: Because you don’t give that vibe. You just do not give the vibe that anything worries you. I mean if people ask me that question, they’d be like, “Oh, gosh. Collin’s top 10 of the day, what worries him,” but you don’t give off that vibe.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah, it’s weird. The top things I would worry about would be my family, like my kids, I worry about my kids.
Collin Hansen: This is even hard for you to answer. I like that.
Sarah Zylstra: It is.
Collin Hansen: Well, you’re a mom, you’ve got kids, I mean that’s a natural thing, I don’t think any of us does not worry about our kids. But I guess I’m thinking, Sarah, that if we’re worried about our kids, that seems unavoidable. We can trust God there, we can fight for faith, but that’s unavoidable. But other things that we worry about, I think, are avoidable. I guess that’s what I’m trying to say is that we spend a lot of time worrying about things that we can’t control, instead of worrying about things that actually we do have a measure of influence on. And I guess maybe “worry” is not the right term there, but concerned? I don’t know.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah. In that category would be my church, in terms of I’m not worried, like, “Oh, no, is this church not going to preach the gospel or not going to serve people,” but how can we do that better is something I like to think about, like how can we reach out better, how can we be better informed in how we do it? So, maybe that.
Collin Hansen: Well, I guess, Sarah, it might be comforting for people to know that you track a lot of difficult things behind the scenes, you talk with a lot of people in positions of influence, but that stuff doesn’t worry you.
Sarah Zylstra: It doesn’t because I’ve had four years of God showing up over and over and over again, so I’m just like, “Well, hang in there, buddy, because God’s doing it with you.”
Collin Hansen: Yeah, the Nigeria story is such an example of that. It’s not in the book, right? We didn’t put it in the book, I don’t think.
Sarah Zylstra: The book was done.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, exactly, it came later. But I’ll never forget, I’ve been trying to find ways for us to cover persecution stories, there’s always stuff out there on persecution, but sometimes you look for a different kind of angle that might allow people to connect with it personally. In this case, we were talking about a graduate of Calvin University, and that’s how we came across it. But I remember the actual story was the complete opposite of what I expected. I thought it was the standard story and it was going to be a way of illustrating this major ongoing problem of Muslims killing Christians there. And all of a sudden, I’ll never forget you calling, saying, “This is not the story, the story is a land dispute with other Christians,” and just saying, “Oh, wow.” But even there, there was something to learn, there was a reason to praise God for people who remembered that pastor’s integrity.
Sarah Zylstra: And the other pastors that I talked to who lived there were also praising God, and they were like, “Man, I’ve been on a bus that got totally shut up by Muslim insurgents, and praise God I lived,” or “Man, my kid got held up the other day, praise God, we’re dancing every day we’re still alive.” And so it was just, for me, if you look at it over here, you would say, “100%, those people are forsaken, God has left them. Look at that, they are getting shot all the time. The violence is everywhere, and it’s a mess.” But, there, they’re literally so happy to get through another day, their hopes are pinned 100% on heaven, they know this place is a disaster here on Earth, and so their hearts are in heaven, which makes me think about Tim Keller.
You would look at Tim Keller and say, “Why would this guy, whom God loves and who loves God, 70-years-old, but still robust and healthy and strong and influential, why would he get this wretched cancer?” And then to talk to him or read what he writes about the ways that it shifted his perspective and pinned his heart more on the Lord and on heaven, and, in that way, making him enjoy life here more. It’s hard, I’m not saying it’s not hard, but God is in all of that too, and if you get close enough, you can see it.
Collin Hansen: Glad you said that, Sarah, because I think if we could tell people what we’re hoping for this book, I think you just summarized it right there in Tim’s experience. We’re not, any of us, unless Christ returns, going to make it out of this world in one piece, we’re just not. So, whether it’s cancer at age 40 or cancer at age 70 or COVID at age 30 or 90, whatever, something’s going to get us there, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise, and it seems that Western culture is engaged in some measure of foolishness to think that this doesn’t apply to us. Of course, it applies to us, it’s the only thing we know for sure, we’re all going to die.
And so that’s a sobering thought right there. It grabs our attention there, or at least it ought to. And yet precisely by grabbing our attention, it turns us to the eternal things, it turns us to the transcendent, it turns us to think there is something more and something sturdy and something trustworthy, something that I can bind myself to so that I can make it through. And that’s the hopeful part of this. And I’m glad you mentioned that because in my years of knowing and working with Tim, I’ve never heard him more hopeful, never heard him more encouraged, never heard him more zealous for Christ than when he’s fighting an inevitably losing battle against pancreatic cancer.
That’s a good illustration, I think, of what we’re trying to look for here is that if you’re discouraged, if you’re worried about things, well, sometimes that’s for good reason because it’s a fallen world. But, ultimately, as we look forward to heaven and we look forward with hope, we have fullness of joy as we look forward to those pleasures forevermore. Sarah, what story encouraged you the most in the book? What’s the one that just lodges in your brain that you love to tell people?
Sarah Zylstra: I like all these stories.
Collin Hansen: Like picking your favorite song.
Sarah Zylstra: It is, it totally is. I’m going to tell you two. I tell Rachelle Starr’s story all the time. She was just working in corporate America and had a burden on her heart. She would drive, every day, past a sign for a strip club to go to work, and God put a huge burden on her heart to go in there. So, what she did for a year, and this is my favorite part and it always gets overshadowed by the rest, but, for a year, her and her friends would go once or twice a week and sit outside the club and pray, and then they would do it again and then they would do it again and they would do it again. And I bet it felt like they were never going anywhere, I bet it felt like they were stuck, like eight months of praying and you’re still just praying.
And then, one day, she just felt a burden from God, like it was time to go in there and do something. And so she walked in and asked if she could do something kind and loving for the women who were there, she asked if she could bring in a meal. And they let her. They were surprised and a little put off, but they let her do it. So, she brought in a meal, and maybe that was just going to be it, you’re just going to bring a meal this one time and show God’s love, but she did it again and she did it again and she did it again and she did it again, and she got women from her church to help her, and they built relationships with these girls who were stripping, some of whom were so afraid of them at the beginning, they thought maybe they were poisoning their food because they were like, “Why would Christians come in here? Christians hate us.”
But they just loved them so well and for so long. And then, of course, after a while, you become a friend with someone and they say, “Man, I don’t have a winter coat” or “Man, I’d love to go to beauty school” or “Man, this is terrible, I hate doing this.” And so they just started holding their hand of these girls as they walked out of the sex industry. And it is such an example to me because it’s so discouraging on the one hand because she said for every girl we help out, there’s a dozen more walking in, so it’s not like they’re making that big of a difference, which makes me think of John Piper’s neighborhood actually, in Minneapolis, where you sit there for 40 years and you’re living in and among this neighborhood and it doesn’t look any different, but there are people’s lives that you’re changing. She’s in almost every strip club in Louisville, she’s helped hundreds of women leave, she’s having an enormous impact, and so I love that story. I tell her story the most.
And I also like Rick Sacra’s story, who is the doctor who flew to the heart of the Ebola crisis, back when they didn’t know they could rescue anybody from Ebola, there hadn’t even been any … Kent Brantly worked at his hospital too, but hadn’t even been pulled back from the edge of that. So, he just went because he was like, “If I don’t go, there will be no hospitals in Monrovia,” and so he went, and caught it too, and had to be flown back and given a vaccine for monkeys or something, it was some medication that wasn’t even approved for human consumption. And then, within a few months, he was back in Liberia, doing this also, he’s like, “I just can’t stay away from these people.” And that is just … I don’t know. And I don’t know if it also says, both of those were in the Caring for the Weak chapter, but I don’t know if that was … I don’t know. I love it.
Collin Hansen: It’s a strong chapter. The IJM story comes to mind as well, just about you’re trying to make a difference, but for every one person you save, a dozen other people are falling into this evil. And that’s sober. But the only way to persevere is to understand that God is still working, and that saving that one person is worth it. I think that’s one thing that maybe the book, I hope, accomplishes is helping people to not be so results-oriented, like, “I’m not being faithful unless my neighborhood transforms.”
It’d be great if your neighborhood transforms, and we want to talk to you about that and we want to share with people about how you did that and how you saw God at work in there, but we don’t want to necessarily give the expectation that that’s always going to happen, and that’s why we try to include in these stories that sober note of, no, it doesn’t mean that every strip club in Louisville has gone away; no, it doesn’t mean that parents no longer sell their children into sex slavery in Asia; no, it doesn’t mean that, but these are still people who are fighting in the light of Christ to shine that in the darkest places, and we want to be able to celebrate that and even encourage other people to be able to do that.
I guess sometimes it can feel like just plugging a dam that’s just exploding, and yet I think there’s something beautiful, the people who say, “Yeah, but I’m going to give it a shot.” I’m not sure, Sarah, anybody ever accomplishes anything significant in this world unless they have that attitude, unless they’re willing to do it whether or not they’re going to succeed.
Sarah Zylstra: Yeah. Was that IJM story your favorite one?
Collin Hansen: It’s just one of those that sticks out to me, in part because it’s complicated, and I like the complicated stories. That’s part of what I like there, but what I like about the Starr story, about the strip clubs, it’s similar to what you’ve written, Sarah, about abortion, and that is that we have to be able to shift in this culture away from this experience of Christians have everything figured out and we try to stay away from those bad people who corrupt us.
We have to be able to look at the women who are seeking abortions, the women who are working in strip clubs as, typically speaking, almost always victimized people, suffering, hurting people who God calls us to love. I guess that’s one of the things that I hope happens in this book is that we understand not because we don’t take abortion or stripping or whatever seriously as a real evil, of course we do, but it’s that the way to fight it is by rescuing the people from within it, not by condemning them further. It seems like grace would compel us to reach out in hope and say, “If I’ve been saved by Christ, then so can you because both of us were dead in our trespasses.” So, that’s why I like those stories as well. What do you hope will happen with the book, Sarah?
Sarah Zylstra: I mean every time I’ve read through it again, I got inspired again. So, just first of all, the simple goodness of the Gospel and God’s care in giving us directions in how to live, I’m just amazed by that because, like you said, these are the same instructions that were true 2,000 years ago, and so to see them just as true today is really heartening and robust. A second thing is when you live like that and God shows up, so to watch him show up in these people’s lives is extremely encouraging.
And all they’re doing is just taking the next step. Rachelle didn’t think, “Here’s what I’m going to do, God called me to help them, so I’m going to draw up a ministry outline or business plan,” she just prayed. And that’s just true of all these people, they just prayed and they took one more step, and then they prayed and they took one more step. Nobody steps into a full-fledged ministry on their first day. So, I think there’s a lot of hope in just living with integrity one more day, and then the next day, and then the next day. They’re really just following God around, which is amazing.
Collin Hansen: I love that. If they’re following God around, then we want to follow them around.
Sarah Zylstra: That’s right.
Collin Hansen: Because when we follow them, we’ll be following God there. My guest on Gospelbound has been Sarah Zylstra, the co-author with me of Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age. We obviously hope that if you’re the kind of person who listens to this podcast and enjoys how we try to learn how to love our neighbors and to be not only properly sobered by the difficulties of this world, but ultimately hopeful about what God is doing, then we think you’re going to love the book. So, in the middle of writing your first book, Sarah, also going to ask then what was the last great book that you have read yourself?
Sarah Zylstra: Well, I’ll tell you a couple that I have read in the last couple months, and what strikes me about them is that when I read Evidence Not Seen by Darlene Diebler Rose, and I read Gay Girl, Good God, by Jackie Hill-Perry, and in both of those, I thought, “These people are Gospelbound,” which is another way that the book changed me is that even in my Bible study, there’s a girl that I know who’s got teenagers, and she’s like, “We’re going to adopt. We’ve been doing Safe Families and foster care stuff, and we’re just going to adopt a couple babies. We can do that,” and I just thought, “Gospelbound.” And now it sort of gave me a category or language for those people that, before, you’d just be like, “That’s such a cool story, I’m so glad you’re doing that,” but now it is a little label for them to be able to say, “This is what I mean, this is how we identify you.”
Collin Hansen: Yeah, it took us a long time to narrow down that title and that descriptor, but we wanted people to be able to remember that that dual-focus that we keep talking about, bound to the Gospel, imagine that this world is a hurricane, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is what holds you down, everything else is falling apart, but it’s what holds you down because you’re tied to it, you’re bound to it. But, at the same time, this language is propelling us forward, we’re bounding forward, and how do you do that? You do that because you know what’s coming, you know the source of your hope, you know how the story’s going to end, you know that, after the hurricane, it’s going to be the most beautiful, peaceful, sunshine and cool breeze.
That’s the new heavens and the new earth that we’re looking forward to today. So, I’m just hoping that that is the ultimate antidote to this anxious age, to these seemingly hopeless times when Christians feel like they’re losing a lot of ground and there’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of anger that comes from that. I just think when you look through history and you look around the world today, you see that there’s a better alternative, there’s a better option. And so, Sarah, thank you for being my friend, for being my colleague, and for helping to tell these stories at The Gospel Coalition and through our new book, Gospelbound. We hope people check it out, read it with a group, share it with their friends, and, above all, rejoice in what God’s doing and get on with the work themselves. Thanks, Sarah.
Sarah Zylstra: Thank you.